My two weeks (within three) of storm chasing Hurricanes Harvey in Texas and then Irma in Florida is coming to a close. As I’ve said earlier, traveling to storm zones and watching recovery efforts is a mixed bag of emotions. On the one hand, it can be so dismaying to see all the damage that has been wrought. Sad to see homes and businesses destroyed, heartbreaking to see new reports of death and significant loss. On the other hand, uplifting to see people helping one another out. Heartwarming to see young kids selling snacks “for hurricane relief.” Great to hear via radio of all the good that relief agencies and first responders are able to do for those in need. Tales of thousands of nurses volunteering at shelters, seeing free barbecue being dispersed among the hungry and temporarily homeless in parking lots, shops with hand-painted signs saying things like “Free Food, Free Water, Free Hugs.”
For my purposes, also kind of awe-inspiring (and I know that sounds overblown, but seriously) to see the focus and dedication of power companies that rush to hurricane zones to provide mutual assistance. Tales of nearly running out of gas in 12-bucket-truck convoys in Georgia, of having to turn around and go back 50 miles to find somewhere to sleep for the night, of line crews and supervisors putting their lives on hold for a week or more to help others. And of course so impressive to hear that within days after such a powerful storm, upwards of 95 to 99 percent of customers whose power was knocked out are now back online.
So today it is a run to the Florida Keys, where all of that is on display. It is the first day residents are being allowed back, and while the roads are passable, many just barely, with debris lining everything and everywhere. Very few shops open, all the billboards blown out, and just a few people as you drive through, just starting to pick up the pieces today. Signs all along warn of the Boil Water alerts, and a radio station based in the Florida Keys recounts hurricane recovery statistics and phone numbers to call for post-storm assistance.
There are a few power crews out today, and not too many lines down, at least not along Highway 1S , which runs right down the middle of the Keys. Some wooden distribution poles have been recently replaced or propped up; the main transmission poles are all concrete and appear to have weathered the storm quite well.
At Islamorada, though, it’s time to turn back, as I start to notice curfew warning signs saying all must be off the Keys/islands within hours. So life is trying to get back to normal in this part of Florida, but after Irma, it’s going to be a while.